Monday, July 19, 2010


Author: Paul Fleischman
Illustrator: Kevin Hawkes
Publisher: Candlewick
Ages: 4-9

This one I picked up at the Strand sale. It has won many awards and honours, I won't list them here. There were many copies so in case you go, get one for yourself. The printed price is $7 but it is selling for 125 bucks. Totally worth getting a copy. 

So there is this kid Wesley who's like any other elementary school kid, except that he's the very brainy types. Reminded me of our own boy genius. As with all such kind, none of his classmates are on his wavelength and he is condemned to be the target of all manner of bullying.

The last week before summer hols, his class studies the history of civilizations - as in, what and how they developed. This gives him an idea for his summer project. What the idea is is all the book is about. Get it, go on, and read it.

Okay I might as well tell you - Wesley decides to 'create' his own civilisation. He digs up a patch in the garden and lets the wind blow seeds over it. These seem like weeds but he lets them grow and soon harvests a rich crop of a sturdy plant that seems to provide virtually everything - he eats the fruit and the roots and creates clothing out of the fibre in its stems. He makes up his own number system using eight digits because the flower of the plant has eight petals, and also a new type of time-keeping device based on the sun's position. His former tormentors watch all of this and their scorn soon turns into interest and then to actually paying him to be useful in his world, which he now christens as 'Weslandia'. He extracts oil from the seeds which he discovers is an excellent bug repellant. He creates a platform from the bamboo-like stems of the plant and takes to sleeping on it to beat the summer heat, and lying on it studies the stars and renames them. He was never good at conventional sport but now makes up his own games which his foe-turned-friends struggle to learn as they require a lot of strategising. He even makes a flute and plays his own music. And in the end, he creates an ink of sorts and even his own 80-letter alphabet! The summer project report is penned down using these two. When he goes back to school, he has 'no shortage of friends'.

The illustrations are warm, bright, full of colour. There are many subtle digs at our current civilisation, all cleverly hidden in the visuals and all total chuckle-inducing.

The book is all about thinking outside the box or even thinking without one. It also demonstrates how its okay to be different and in fact its being different that leads to the blossoming of original ideas. There is much more analyzing you can do of this story but hey all I will say is that we LOVED the book. The age range is 4-9 but I bet even an older kid (defined not necessarily in terms of no. of years) will enjoy it. If you do get a copy (if you land up before me that is, I'm planning to go again and buy up all the copies there), let me know what you think!


starry eyed said...

if you go and buy up all the copies before I get there...I will buy one off you, so there! Amazing book n review!

sandhya said...

Wonderful book, and wonderful review, as usual. "He sticks out." True, isn't it? I read it, child read it. Voted a winner.

Choxbox said...

Starry: Thats exactly why I want to get more copies - to give it to folks like you :)

S: It is, totally.

utbtkids said...

There is something very familiar about the illustrations, I am not able to put my finger on it.

On hold in our local lib.

sathish said...

The cover of the book reminds me of the new movie to be released by ghibli called 'Arrietty'! - although there is no relationship in the story between them.

Sheela said...

Sounds intriguing, Chox - how does he do all that? Does the book explain his number system - is it base eight, or does he work with 8-digits? Does the book just say he does it, or does it give plausible explanation and scenario of how he develops these fantastic things? I guess I'll have to read it for myself to find out :)

Choxbox said...

utbt: Bet you'll like it :)

Sathish: off to check that out.

Sheels: Nah, just says 'based on the number 8', doesn't go beyond that.
Am assuming its an octal numeral system.

This book btw is a big hit with my 5 yr old. Don't think she gets the base 8 stuff :) but it did lead her to think about the fact that there could be different no. of letters in different alphabet. She came up with the fact that the number of letters in the alphabet - how English has 26 vs. 48 in Hindi, and how we have to mix join some letters to get certain sounds - something that Hindi does not require etc etc.

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